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How do you reconcile world (κόσμος) in 1 John 2:15-17 with John 3:16-17?

κόσμος has obviously different meanings as used in the following two passages.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Jn 3:16–17). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. 17 And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (1 Jn 2:15–17). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Keep this passage also in mind:

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. 2 And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Eph 5:1–2). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Here's the definitions minus the extensive references in BAG:

κόσμος, ου, ὁ (Hom.+; inscr., pap., LXX)—1. adornment, adorning (...). 2. in philosoph. usage the world as the sum total of everything here and now, the (orderly) universe ... 3. the world as the sum total of all beings above the level of the animals ... 4. the world as the earth, the planet upon which we live (...). a. gener. ... b. the world as the habitation of mankind ... c. earth, world in contrast to heaven ... d. the world outside in contrast to one’s home .... 5. the world as mankind ... 6. the world as the scene of earthly joys, possessions, cares, sufferings ... 7. the world, and everything that belongs to it, appears as that which is hostile to God, i.e. lost in sin, wholly at odds w. anything divine, ruined and depraved ... 8. totality, sum total ...

Arndt, W., Gingrich, F. W., Danker, F. W., & Bauer, W. (1979). A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature : a translation and adaption of the fourth revised and augmented edition of Walter Bauer’s Griechisch-deutsches Worterbuch zu den Schrift en des Neuen Testaments und der ubrigen urchristlichen Literatur (pp. 445–447). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

I would post a quote of the following reference on κόσμος, but it's too much:

Kittel, G., Friedrich, G., & Bromiley, G. W. (1985). Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (pp. 459–465). Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans.

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    The test is self-explanatory: do not love the world or the things in the world [...] the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life. The first passage speaks of God's love for humans, not for worldly pleasures, which Christ Himself avoided completely during His incarnation.
    – Lucian
    Commented Feb 12, 2018 at 1:55
  • But, how did you define worldly in worldly pleasures if not from verses like 1 John 2:15-17? That's why I said most people familiar with scripture would come up with a pretty good answer.
    – Perry Webb
    Commented Feb 12, 2018 at 9:46
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    John 3.16 is the posterboy of why you must not build theology around a single verse
    – Robert
    Commented Aug 19, 2021 at 23:14
  • @LiliasCarmichael Since there is an accepted answer I would not have offered one were it not for your bounty request for more attention to the OP. Commented Sep 8, 2023 at 15:29

8 Answers 8

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How to reconcile John 3:16 and 1 John 2:15?

The word in bold [humankind] inserted in the Vs by me.

John 3:16 NASB

16 “For God so loved the world,[of humankind] that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish, but have eternal life.

In the above Vs John tells us that God loved the world of mankind, the imperfect human beings that are dying and are in desperate need of help. Then why did the apostle say?

1 John 2:15 NASB

Do Not Love the World

15 Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.

From the beginning of- "Adam "- Satan has alienated mankind from God, it is this human society that is opposed to God and is under the control of Satan, that John warns Christians to be separate.

John 2:16-17 NASB

16 For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. 17 The world is passing away and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God continues to live forever.

James 1:27 NET

27 Pure and undefiled religion before[a] God the Father[b] is this: to care for orphans and widows in their adversity[c] and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

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+50

The difference is one of perspective and intention. The definition of Kosmos offered by Abarim Publications limits the notion of Kosmos (the world) thusly:

The important noun κοσμος (kosmos) means order, and that mostly of the civilized, governed and cultured human world. It does not denote the "cosmos", or the "world" in the sense of our planet or some earthly realm or territory, or even the biosphere at large; it doesn't really refer to anything physical or tangible but rather the elements of human order that define modern humanity and which separates humans from wild animals: the functional diversity and societal layers, the institutions of government, the rules and norms and fashions, even the languages, markets and monetary systems (see Ephesians 6:12). And since the elements of this human order cannot be understood or even seen by animals, neither can the κοσμος (kosmos).

The etymology of kosmos is offered along with much commentary (take it or leave it, but it is worth the reading) but they do suggest that:

it "probably" stems from the verb κομεω (komeo), meaning to take care of or to train toward maturity and order

Therefore, the 'world' that God so loved that He sent His Son to save is "the elements of human order that define modern humanity and which separates humans from wild animals": In other words, humanity as it should be ... as He intended in the creation.

And the 'world' that the Apostle John adjures us to be unloving towards is the elements of human order as they are: Fallen, at enmity with God, and entirely unaligned with His purposes in creation.

Here is John 3:16-19 with {my own} related amplification:

For God so loved {what He always intended and created humanity to be}, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into {what humanity has become} to condemn {what He always intended and created humanity to be}; but that {what He always intended and created humanity to be} through him might be {rescued and restored}. He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that light is come into {what humanity has become}, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.

And here is 1 John 2:15-17 with similar amplification:

Love not {what humanity has become}, neither the things that are {part of what humanity has become}. If any man love {what humanity has become}, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is {part of what humanity has become}, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of {what humanity has become}. And {what humanity has become} passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.

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    Mike, thank you for this incredibly helpful answer! In reading your response, it dawned on me that God so loved the (broken) world that He sent Jesus. So John tells us not to love that broken world because we cannot save it but would only be enticed away from God by it! So not only might it be that the loves are different, as you noted, but also that the ability to have certain types of love is different between God and man and that also makes a difference! Commented Sep 11, 2023 at 16:16
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It is true that both John 3:16 and 1 John 2:15 have the same operative word, κόσμος (kosmos) but the meaning is different in each case as shown by the various definitions given by BDAG. Here I will only quote two of the 8 listed meanings for this very common word from BDAG.

  1. humanity in general, the world, of all humanity but especially believers as the special object of God's love, eg, John 3:16, 17c, 6:33, 51, 12:47b, etc

  2. the system of human existence in its many aspects, the world, ... (b) the world , and all that belongs to it, appears as that which is hostile to God, ie, lost in sin, wholly at odds with anything divine, ruined and depraved, eg, Jojm 1:10, 8:23, 12:25, 31a, 13;1, 16:11, 18:36, 1 John 4:17, 1 Cor 3:19, 5:10a, 7:31b, Gal 4:3, Col 2:8, 20a, 1 John 5:4, 2:17, etc.

Thus, while these two verses use the same word, kosmos, it has a different meaning in each case. More specifically, using these meanings:

  • John 3:16 - God so loved the people of the world that He gave ... that whomsoever ...
  • 1 John 2:15 - Do not love worldly things and ways, or anything that comes from this worldly existence ...

The distinction between the two meanings is made explicit by the phrase that follows the first "kosmos" in 1 John 2:15, "the [things] of the world". In John 3:16 it is "whomsoever", ie, any person.

Thus, there is no contradiction as the word means different things in different contexts.

APPENDIX - Words with more than one meaning

Here are some examples of words that have multiple meanings:

  • The boy with the fair hair at the fair was really fair.
  • The bandage was wound onto the wound.

The same is true in Greek as well.

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    Yes, and in each of the verses, John qualifies what he means by kosmos, narrowing the definition: In John 3:16. God's love is demonstrated by salvation for . . . "whosoever," which means people. In I John 2:15, kosmos doesn't refer to people, but things and practices, and selfish desires that we're commanded to reject.
    – Dieter
    Commented Sep 9, 2023 at 23:19
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Reflecting on these two passages, what they present are not two different meanings of “world” but two very different kinds of love. What Jn 3:16-17 describes is God’s divine love for the world, a pure and selfless love that is willing to make the utmost sacrifice in order to redeem that which it loves.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. – Jn 3:16

On the other hand, 1 Jn 2:15-17 describes a worldly kind of love, a self-centered love that seeks to possess and exploit that which it loves for its own gain.

For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. – 1 Jn 2:16

“Do not love the world.” The boldness of this imperative lies in how it links human love to worldly love. The way that God loves, exemplified in the love of the Father in the giving of His only son, and the way that we love the world are thus presented as mutually exclusive and irreconcilable.

If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. – 1 Jn 2:15

Only when we are born of God can we free ourselves from worldly love. Implicit in 1 John 2 is the call to unite ourselves to God through Christ. Only then can we partake in His divine love for the world.

And now, little children, abide in Him, that when He appears, we may have confidence and not be ashamed before Him at His coming. 29If you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone who practices righteousness is born of Him. - 1 Jn 2:28-29 NKJ

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    Very helpful answer, thank you!! I came to a similar conclusion after meditating more ok the passage. My “end conclusion” sort of combines what you shared and what Mike wrote above. Thank you! Commented Sep 11, 2023 at 16:13
  • @LiliasCarmichael l learned a lot from this question... it reinforces for me the reason why men cannot fulfill the law of God. As "love is the fulfilling of the law" (Ro 13:10), it makes sense why men, on their own, cannot fulfill the law (Ro 7:18, 8:7-8), incapable as we are of the kind of love that is pure and unstained by self-interest and worldly desire. On the other hand, I cannot imagine God not loving the world, even in its poorest and most broken condition, which is precisely the reason why he sent his only son to save it.
    – Nhi
    Commented Sep 11, 2023 at 19:24
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"Condemn" can only refer to moral agents capable of punishment-worthy acts or intents, and "but whoever believes" can only refer to creatures capable of understanding and accepting the revelation and commandments of Christ. God loved the world—but clearly the Son wasn't sent to die for plants or rocks (i.e. the whole world in some literal sense). (Eph 5:1-2—"gave Himself up for us" cf. "[for] the world" Jn 3:15-17)

Therefore, in John 3, 'world' has the same meaning as that of today when we say 'the world has gone astray.' That is, we are talking about the acts and morality of people in the world, not the earth itself (which κοσμος never refers to; correct me if I'm wrong). John 3 uses it in the same way—the world can 'believe' in Jesus (where 'world' stands in for 'all in the world').

And in 1 John 2 we have a similar situation, except 'the world' is used in its other sense, as referring to 'the ways of [those that are in] the world,' with a negative connotation, i.e. what the lifestlye of the Gentiles was to the Jews—that of unbelievers (e.g. Mt 18:17b), followers of their own ways, and not God's.

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  • I think most people familiar with the Bible will come up with a pretty good answer. Is there a way to relate differences in the meaning of κόσμος to your answer based on the context of usage?
    – Perry Webb
    Commented Feb 9, 2018 at 22:55
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    Are you asking for a profile of the different usages throughout the New Testament (or even LXX), or a more in-depty contextual reason the word κοσομς is used in different senses in seemingly opposite ways in these specific passages? Commented Feb 9, 2018 at 23:41
  • In both cases κόσμος apparently references all the people in the world, but in a different sense. Do you see the sense of ornamental and adorning (cosmetic) coming out in 1 John 2:15-17? Maybe with some of the sense of 1 Samuel 16:7.
    – Perry Webb
    Commented Feb 10, 2018 at 0:51
  • Maybe also with some sense of Jeremiah 9:23-24.
    – Perry Webb
    Commented Feb 10, 2018 at 0:59
  • Your answer does match the definitions in BAG.
    – Perry Webb
    Commented Feb 10, 2018 at 13:15
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In my view (and I realize I get little support from BDAG on this or anyone else for that matter) John uses KOSMOS in a somewhat peculiar sense to refer to the contemporary (to him) Jewish theocratic establishment. If I were pressed for a single word to render what John meant it would probably be "establishment" or "system". It isn't intrinsically negative though often used that way. John's usage can be neutral as referring to "our people" but he is often brutally negative. It is similar to his usage of "the Jews". In modern times that is how "hippies" and the oppressed tend to refer to the government and all of the ancillary systems such as self-serving religion, establishment-serving education, rigged economics, oppressive law enforcement, etc. In this video John Lennon can be seen denouncing the "system":

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DDf3vcvaRw4

I believe that "John" that authored the 4th canonical gospel and John Lennon have a great deal in common in their use of the "system". And our John's "system" is the Jewish theocracy. Many are tempted to see it as Rome or humanity but I don't think a broader investigation of John's usages bears that out. A couple of good examples are:

Joh 12:19  The Pharisees therefore said among themselves, Perceive ye how ye prevail nothing? behold, the world is gone after him. 

Joh 6:14  Then those men, when they had seen the miracle that Jesus did, said, This is of a truth that prophet that should come into the world.

Note that no one expected that the prophet to come would "come into the world" but rather into Judaism:

Deu 18:15  The LORD thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto him ye shall hearken;

Those are neutral usages. In John 8 he refers to "the Jews" as "the spawn of Satan". So too in 1 John "the whole establishment is under the control of the wicked one]":

NIV 1Jn_5:19  We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one.

KJV unless otherwise noted

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All answers are pertinent, but I think timing is of the essence. Jesus created, loved, and died for the world. After that historical event, Christians are warned not to love the world or worldliness.

In the same way that the children of Israel desired the things left behind in Egypt. We are not to look back.

John 3:19 - And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.

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  • Hi Moira, welcome to BH-Stack Exchange, we are glad you are here. Please be sure to take the site tour and read our code of conduct. Thanks! Commented Aug 20, 2021 at 10:48
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The Old Testament has two commands to love:

4 “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. 5 You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.
(Deuteronomy 6 ESV)
...you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD. (Leviticus 19:18)

With respect to these two commands Jesus did two things before He died. The first was to affirm the importance of the two:

28 And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” 29 Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12)

The second was to "raise the bar" with regard to loving others:

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. (John 13:34)

It is no longer sufficient to love others to the standard of self-love. Believers are to love others as Jesus loved. Therefore, man is not instructed to love the world. Love for the world is to try and love as God loves rather than to love as Jesus did.

Later, John develops the contrast between God's love with the command man is to follow:

7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. (1 John 4)

God is love. His love is without limit. God can love the world and man. However, man's capacity to love has limits; any love of the world comes at the expense of love of God or love of others.

Conclusion
The world is the same in both passages. The Gospel explains God's love which is not limited to man, but is for all He creates. Man is to love God and love others. Any love man has for the world comes at the expense of love of God or others. It is an attempt to be like God. It is to repeat the sin of the first man and woman who desired to become like God.

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  • A deeply thought-provoking answer. I can only suppose that someone had down-voted it due to your conclusion, perhaps misunderstanding it. The 2nd & 3rd sentences are completely true, but another answer might be needed to explain what, exactly, you meant by the 4th, 5th and 6th sentences. But +1 from me!
    – Anne
    Commented Mar 24 at 8:09

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